From the swish streets of Gate Village in DIFC to the rough ‘n’ ready Al Quoz district, Dubai has plenty of art to keep you inspired. Here are the five best exhibitions to see right now, whether you’re a casual observer or the next Charles Saatchi.

Fresh from the success of his debut solo London show last year, painter Safwan Dahoul returns to his Dubai gallery to exhibit new work for the first time in the region. The trademark dreamlike air still pervades Dahoul’s work, but here his previously intensely personal and ambiguous imager engages more directly with the world around us – namely the ongoing war in his native Syria. They remain anything but literal interpretations of war and destruction – and are all the more powerful for it.

Almost A Dream

Until March 13
Ayyam Gallery Dubai, Building 3, Gate Village, DIFC, Dubai, free. Tel: (04) 4392393. Metro: Emirates Towers.

In this intensely personal body of work commercial photographer and photojournalist Katarina Premfors turns her lens on her father in the wake of the debilitating stroke he suffered in 2011. It follows his rehabilitation and ultimately fatal cancer diagnosis shortly afterwards in a manner that strikes a fine balance between professional distance in its clear-eyed reportage and the deeply emotional charge such an intimate subject naturally brings. A fine and moving tribute to the mortality we all, sooner or later, have to face.


Until February 22
Golf Photo Plus, Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai, free. Tel: (04) 3808545. Taxi: Al Serkal Avenue.

Traditional portraiture with a twist would be one way to describe British artist Ross Chisholm’s distinctive style. But as this – his first solo show in the Middle East – reveals, it’s the ‘twist’ that really brings his work to life. Drawing inspiration from everything from 18th-century society portraits to snapshots and postcards sourced at street markets, Chisholm’s clever mash-up of styles and varying abstraction is a veritable visual feast.


Until March 10
Green Art Gallery, Unit 28, Street 8, Al Serkal Avenue, Dubai, free. Tel: (04) 3469305. Taxi: Al Serkal Avenue.

Last chance to catch this series of large-scale works by Soviet-born US artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Their deceptively simple graphic style may nod to the popular 20th century artistic stylings of their Russian heritage, but the message – that war isn’t just destructive, but futile – has a resonance that’s just as pertinent in this region today.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

Until February 23
Sharjah Art Foundation, SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah, free. Tel: (06) 5685050. Taxi: Sharjah Art Foundation.

Orientalism – that traditional Western take on the ‘exotic’ Middle East – gets a makeover when it comes under the brush of US artist Asad Faulwell. Ornate and elaborate his compositions might be, but these are no mere decorative arts – the women depicted here are drawn directly from historical records of the French occupation of Algeria in the middle of the 20th century, where women fought alongside men in a violent bid for independence. It’s a powerful juxtaposition.

Until February 12
Lawrie Shabibi, Unit 21, Al Serkal Avenue, Dubai, free. Tel: (04) 3469906. Taxi: Al Serkal Avenue.